The full 20 July 2023 arrest inside a Kenosha, Wisconsin, Applebee’s restaurant was recorded on police body camera video, but different viewers have very different understandings of what happened that night.
To some, the tape shows police attacking a man holding his baby in a case of racist mistaken arrest, while others see a man needlessly escalating a calm law enforcement encounter.
To Zion, Illinois, residents Jermelle English Jr, Shanya Boyd and their one-year-old son, the tape shows textbook police brutality, an arrest so egregious that Team Roc, the social justice arm of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation entertainment company, has rallied to the family’s defence, hiring high profile attorney Alex Spiro to represent them.
“The reckless arrest of Jermelle English Jr and the careless endangerment of his infant child by the Kenosha Police Department is an absolute travesty,” Team ROC managing director Dania Diaz said this summer.
On the evening in question, an employee called area officers to the Applebee’s, believing the family looked “very nervous” and matched the description of suspects in a nearby hit-and-run, who witnesses described as two Black men and a Black woman. They were the only Black people in the restaurant at the time, ABC 7 reports.
Officers began questioning the pair, and English told officers he wasn’t under arrest so he didn’t have to respond. As he got up to take his son to the bathroom, officers began attempting to physically restrain him.
The encounter escalated quickly, with English screaming, “Don’t touch me!” and “Be careful!” as officers tried to subdue him and pry his crying child from his arms. Bystanders described both English and his son hitting their heads on a wall. Body camera footage shows one officer repeatedly striking English as he’s on the ground, while other officers hold the man down.
As Boyd looks on, partially cuffed, she grows increasingly dismayed, telling officers, “He’s got my f***ing child!” and trying to climb over a booth to reach them. She and the officers struggle, sending dishes across a table, and officers eventually pepper spray the mother.
Police eventually found the main suspects, hiding in the bathroom, but English and Boyd were charged with resisting an officer and disorderly conduct.
“All you had to do was ask a few questions that would take what 10 seconds? Thirty seconds? To avoid any of this happening,” Kevin O’Connor, an attorney representing the family, said at a press conference in August, calling on the charges against the family to be dropped.
The Independent has contacted the Kenosha District Attorney’s Office for comment.
The Kenosha police tell a very different story.
The department released full video of the encounter last week, narrated by chief Pat Patton.
In the video, the chief calls allegations of profiling “wholly inaccurate,” saying that under state law, police had enough “reasonable suspicion” to temporarily detain and question the family.
The official said that English and Boyd could’ve easily cleared themselves by pointing to their car parked outside. Instead, body camera footage captures English telling officers they can “go check the camera” to find out what car he drove.
“They needed to only point to it and tell the officers that that was their vehicle,” he said. “That could’ve ended this officer’s investigation.”
Tanya McLean, head of the local Leaders of Kenosha activist group, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that police’s remarks about the arrest have been “tone deaf.”
"I was amazed at the level of victim shaming and blaming. ... Chief Patton isn’t typically a tone-deaf person," she said. "Jermelle was clearly fighting. As most Black and Brown people do when they are confronted by police officers who can’t tell you why you are being detained. Because of the history of police departments across this country and Black and Brown people, we’re hesitant."
The Kenosha PD has said it won’t comment further on the arrest.
A use of force review prompted punishment for two officers involved.
West Allis police department officer Michael Vences, who struck English, was suspended for four days, with the review finding his use of force “reasonable,” but nonetheless suggested “he should have re-evaluated the effectiveness of those strikes and considered other options to overcome Mr English’s resistance.”
The Independent has contacted the West Allis PD for comment.
Another officer, Luke Courtier, was suspended for 10 days for failling to decontaminate Boyd after using pepper spray and for allegedly failing “in regard to professional communication, the safe operation of department vehicles and report writing,” according to the Kenosha PD.
Both officers will receive “supplemental training,” according to the Kenosha PD.
The arrests struck a particular nerve in Kenosha.
In 2020, the Wisconsin city became one of the hubs of the national racial justice protest movement, after a Black man named Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a Kenosha police officer responding to a domestic dispute.
Local police, according to Mr O’Connor’s remarks this summer, “have a history that they act first and ask questions later, especially if you’re the wrong colour.”
The ensuing protests prompted officials to send the National Guard into the streets.
During the chaos, a then-teenager named Kyle Rittenhouse, traveled into the city with an assault rifle and fatally shot two protesters, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and seriously wounded a third, in what he claimed was self-defence.
In 2021, he was acquitted on five charges, in a high-profile trial that saw Mr Rittenhouse use his fame to become something of a right-wing influencer in the years since.
Tensions between community members and law enforcement don’t appear to have improved since.
A review of 2021 data prepared by the Kenosha County Racial and Ethnic Equity Commission found that Black adults were nearly seven times more likely to be arrested in Kenosha County than their white counterparts, and Black youth were more than five times as likely to be arrested as white youth.